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Archive | August, 2012

Higher Ed Accounting Certification Exams: What’s Your Strategy?

Higher Ed Accounting Certification Exams: What’s Your Strategy?

The Uniform CPA exam is one of the most rigorous professional certification exams and the pass rates show just how challenging the exam is. According to the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), the average pass rate for the first and second quarter of 2012 is just 47.5%. The dismal pass rate isn’t a result of a lack of education. In most states, candidates have to meet minimum educational requirements in order to even sit for the exam, which means that candidates have learned all of the material covered on the exam. With more than half of all test takers failing the exam, it’s clear that most accounting graduates and professionals have not developed an adequate strategy to prepare for the exam.

There are many reasons why people fail to prepare for the exam. Often, candidates are trying to juggle other responsibilities, such as spouses, children, and other personal commitments. Many exam candidates work full-time, adding to the distractions and difficulty in studying. No matter what the reason, based on the high failure rate, it’s clear that the majority of testing candidates would benefit from taking a CPA exam review program between graduating with an accounting degree and sitting for the Uniform CPA Exam. A thorough exam review program can make the difference between passing and failing. In fact, just about all currently licensed CPAs used a CPA review program because of the difficulty of the exam.

In addition to the difficulty of the exam material itself, to make things more challenging, candidates must pass all four sections within eighteen months after they obtain their first passing score. Factoring in the fact that candidates can’t retake an exam section within the same window and that there are four blackout months in which the exam is not administered and it becomes clear that a testing strategy is critical to success.

Because of the testing windows and requirement to pass all sections within eighteen months, candidates would be wise to plan out the order in which they will sit for each exam section. Although personal preference can play a part in developing a strategy, most licensed CPAs and instructors recommend starting with the most difficult section first, typically FAR, and leaving the easiest section for last, which is typically BEC. Exam pass rates tend to bear this out with FAR having the lowest pass rate and BEC having the highest. Another point to consider is how the exam sections coordinate. Most people feel that the topics addressed in the FAR and AUD sections are relatively similar. The material in REG and BEC is also highly related. For this reason, many choose to start with FAR and then take AUD, REG, and BEC in that order.

Candidates should also factor in their personal strengths, weaknesses, and preferences in order to determine the optimal exam order. Some prefer to start with the easiest section as a confidence booster while others prefer to start with the hardest so that the remaining sections will are be easier.  Personal and work commitments and events are also critical considerations when developing an exam scheduling strategy. Vacations, family weddings, reunions, tax season, and major work deadlines are stressful enough without adding a CPA exam into the mix. If at all possible, candidates should leave themselves some time between these events and the exam to recharge and refresh so that they have the best odds of success. Walking into an exam of this difficulty requires a rested mind.

Once candidates decide on the exam order, the next step is to create a study strategy for each section. Each of the four exam sections covers different material and sections have a variety of question formats. Some sections focus more on detailed calculations while others may focus on simulations. Because of the variety in topics and question formats, it’s critical to study using material designed for each specific section. A CPA exam preparation course can be an excellent option to take some of the legwork out of gathering appropriate and effective study materials for each section. In addition, most preparation programs offer practice exams and test simulations so candidates can quickly identify areas that they need to dedicate additional study and attention towards. Practice exams can also help candidates feel more confident on exam day since they will already have been exposed to similar testing material.

With proper planning and a smart strategy in place, candidates have much better chances of being among those who pass the exam and be on their way to becoming a CPA.

Today’s guest article is provided by Grant Webb of Bisk CPA Review. Grant writes and reports on accounting career development as well as strategies for helping CPA exam candidates pass all 4 section of the Uniform CPA Exam. For more information you can reach him on twitter @biskcpareview and on FaceBook.com/biskcpagroup.

Additional articles related to CPAs:

Certified Public Accountant – Scholarship Opportunity (Ohio)

CPA Scholarships for Bean Counters


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The Best (Free) Wi-Fi Locator Apps for College Students

The Best (Free) Wi-Fi Locator Apps for College Students

With tuition on the rise, the cost of living becoming your responsibility and the predicament of bills and other expenses, the last thing college students want to worry about is where they are going to get their Wi-Fi. Most have grown up having access to wireless Internet at all times. Thankfully, smartphones have evolved in tandem with Wi-Fi and as have apps designed to help the wandering student locate the best places to get free Internet on the go. So get out of the library and study in a more relaxed atmosphere with the help of these free Wi-Fi locator apps:

Free Wi-Fi Finder
Free Wi-Fi Finder works on all iOS mobile devices. The hotspots are plotted out on a map and can be found either via GPS or by address. Additionally, an offline map can be generated to help you search while you are away from a Wi-Fi connection.

4sqwifi
4sqwifi is a Wi-Fi locator app made to connect with Foursquare’s API by searching for venues using keywords like “Wi-Fi” and “password.” Co-creator Apostolos Papadopoulous explains: “Tips are user-generated, and the best thing is that 4sqwifi works immediately with and in Foursquare’s community — worldwide.”

Wi-Fi Crowd
The service is intended to help people find the nearest public Wi-Fi hotspots. Users can store hotspots privately or share them in common databases so that other people can access them. There isn’t much to distinguish this app from the others in this field, except that it’s free and comes with an easy-to-use interface. The sharing aspect of Wi-Fi Crowd can be especially valuable if traveling through unfamiliar territory as it allows you to tap into the knowledge of locals.

Offline Wi-Fi Finder
While Offline Wi-Fi Finder is not a network scanner app, it offers a free and comprehensive directory of more than 35,000 hotspots across the United States. It lists hotspots in more than 8,000 cities and can help you find Internet access in any of the 50 states. Best of all, you do not need Internet to use it; it’s designed specifically with the offline traveler in mind, as it stores its database on your phone, enabling you to access the data and even determine your location by using a simple search function. Online users can also add hotspots to the database.

About the Author

Today’s guest article is provided by Logan Harper, community manager at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s online Masters in Public Administration degree. He is currently working on a project to create a web resource to find MPA jobs for UNC graduates. Outside of work, Logan enjoys movies, traveling and learning new languages.

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Where Your Money is Really Disappearing to in College

Where Your Money is Really Disappearing to in College

College students carefully prepare their budgets in order to ensure that they will have enough money to meet their needs throughout the academic year. At the beginning of the term, loan disbursements, grants and scholarships generally add up to a large sum that appears as though it will last forever. However, once the school year begins many college students quickly discover that their bank accounts are experiencing rapidly decreasing totals. While students tend to think about the major expenses that occur in college such as tuition and books, they often fail to take into consideration how smaller purchases can quickly add up to a loss of money. If a college student is wondering where their money is disappearing to, then they will need to look at the following areas of their budget to find ways that they can scale back on minor purchases.

The Drive-Thru
The morning rush to class can lead to a stop at the local fast food restaurant or convenience store in order to pick up a cup of coffee or a breakfast sandwich. While it may seem like a minor expense at the time, when this pattern is repeated every morning, a college student might as well be throwing their money right through the drive-thru window. Instead, students can brew their own coffee at home. Many major chains sell ground coffee through grocery retailers along with flavorful syrups that can give homemade coffee a professional taste. College students should also plan simple and easy to prepare meals that they can be ready to eat even when they are in a hurry.

Entertainment

College life includes an active social schedule. However, dating and going to events with friends can become quite expensive. Even when friends split the bill at a restaurant, one meal can equal up to a week’s worth of groceries. Instead of eating out, college students can plan potluck dinners with their friends and dinner parties at home. Going to movies and other types of events can also be expensive. Therefore, college students can explore less expensive alternatives such as visiting parks, museums and libraries. For additional savings, students should ask at local venues if they offer a student discount. This can make attending special events easier on the budget.

The Grocery Bill
Just as fast food is a drain on the budget, so are the many convenient junk foods that are available at the local grocery store. Chips, soda and cookies might be what a college student needs to get through a cram session, but they are also expensive and frequently bought on impulse. In order to avoid impulse buys and save on groceries, college students should prepare a grocery list and stick to it as they shop. They should also read sales advertisements and shop at more than one store in order to find the best sales. Many stores will also match prices or accept double coupons. When students do come across a great sale, then they can buy frequently used items in bulk for additional savings. Another great way for college students to cut down on their grocery bill is to share meals with friends or eat with their family if they live nearby.

Clothing
Keeping up with trends by buying regularly buying new clothes and accessories is another area where college students tend to blow their budgets. A new outfit might help to build up confidence for a first date or a new class, but purchasing new ensembles for every event is costly. Small items such as bracelets and necklaces also add up. Avoiding wasting money on clothes does not meaning giving up on style. College students can save money in this area by shopping at sales and resale shops. They should also plan a wardrobe that includes a few staple pieces in similar colors that can easily be mixed and matched. Then, they can add in a few new accessory pieces to update a look as needed. Borrowing and sharing clothes with friends and roommates is another great way to double a wardrobe without blowing a budget.

Gasoline
It is no secret that gasoline is expensive. However, many college students fail to realize how even short trips can deplete their car’s fuel tanks. In order to save at the pump, college students should plan to walk or ride a bicycle when traveling short distances. Students can also plan to car pool with friends and classmates when traveling further or use public transportation when going out of town.

In order to replenish their bank accounts, college students need to examine how minor purchases have a major impact on their account totals. By implementing a few simple changes in the areas where they spend the most, students can begin to take control of their spending so that they can save money to apply towards their savings and college tuition.

Today’s guest article is provided by Ryan Devereux, a freelance writer and financial blogger. Mr. Devereux believes that personal financial skills are as important a part of college education as the academic studies. While students involved in culinary programs may be learning to master gustation, successful chefs understand how to manage spoilage as well.

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Promotional Laptop Deals for College Bound Students

Promotional Laptop Deals for College Bound Students

The summer is finally dwindling down which means school will commence shortly.  While pens, planners, and notebooks are appreciated by most traditional college-bound and online students, what they really want (and need) is a shiny, fast-performing laptop to help them excel in their studies—not to mention a new laptop can be used as an effective communication tool for them to keep in touch with friends and family back home via video chat or email. The downside? New laptops aren’t exactly cheap. But thanks to your new college student status you may just have access to a plethora of deals and discounts—all you needs is a valid student I.D or university email account.

That said, to learn what the three biggest computer retailers Microsoft, Sony, and Apple are offering their college-aged consumers check out some of their back-to-school promotions below:

Microsoft

Earlier this summer Microsoft reinstated its annual Buy a PC, get an Xbox promotion.  Customers who can show proof of their student-status receive a free 4GB X-Box console when they purchase a “qualifying” Windows 7 PC valued at $699 or more at any one of the participating retailers: Dell.com, Fry’s Electronics, HPDirect.com, Microsoft Stores, and NewEgg.com. Some of the more popular PC laptops to choose from this season include the HP Envy 15, Samsung Series 5 Ultra and the Dell XPS 13. Don’t forget that Microsoft also offers student-priced software packages like University Office. The promotion ends early September.

Sony

Similar to Microsoft’s promotion, Sony is offering a free 160 GB Playstation3 or a PlayStation Vita (Wi-Fi model) to students who purchase one of the 11 qualifying VAIO laptops. Prices vary. It does not state when the promotion ends. (Editor’s note – Click here to see my review of the Sony Vaio or here to see my 15 hour battery test with Dave Matthews)

Apple

Lastly, thanks to the tech company’s Education Pricing program, Apple is offering a $100 “Back-to-School” gift card to every college student that purchases a Mac now through September 21. The gift card can be applied to e-textbooks, study guide apps, or even music and videos.  College students who purchase iPads on the other hand can qualify to earn a $50 Apple gift card that can be used for the same purposes.

Today’s guest post is provided by Maria Rainier, who writes about educational news for Onlinedegrees.org. She encourages feedback from her readers in the comment section below.

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Thinking Outside of the Box with Higher Education

Thinking Outside of the Box with Higher Education

The following opinion piece was submitted by EARL D. BROOKS II, Ph.D., president of Trine University

One certainty about the future is change. The common phrase of “This is the way we’ve always done it” paralyzes and limits discussion of alternatives to make education more flexible and affordable. So why are we so grounded in traditional models of delivery? For example, why do we go to college for four years, take summer vacations and then earn a college degree? In my years in higher education, no one can supply an adequate answer. Some suggest the four-year system dates back to the first universities in Europe and the Middle East. Most scholars agree that summers were considered a time for harvesting crops, a job that only affects a small percentage of the population today.

More universities are beginning to examine flexible education models to respond to the needs of today’s students and industry. As federal and state funding for education declines, tuition costs rise, family structure changes and technological advancements are made, more people are beginning to question the validity and need for a four-year education. They aren’t questioning the need for an education – only why it has to take that long and with curriculums that support an often unnoticed growing number of credits.

A 2009 Boston Globe article, The Four-Year College Myth, states “Census data from 2005 tell us that only 28 percent of American adults have a bachelor’s degree. As for how many adults took the ‘traditional’ path and received their BA within four years of high school, some rough number crunching of federal education data shows that the percentage dips to below 10 percent.”

The four-year graduation rate is higher at private colleges than public colleges, but the majority of the population goes to public schools. So, we must look at our education model – or rather system – and ask how we can transform it to better meet the needs of students, industry and communities. If only a quarter of Americans have bachelor’s degree and only 10 percent did that in the idealistic four years after high school graduation, something is not right.

The idea of spending four years in school is now outdated. If you look at the American education system, the idea of eight spring and fall semesters has come and gone. For years many students at Trine University graduated in less than four years. If you review many institutions and programs prior to the 1970s, graduates often completed programs in three years or less, this included intense majors such as engineering. Students attended school year-round, focused intently on their studies and were not saddled with free elective classes, rather only those that pertained to their area of study or a specific skill set.

Some students, especially athletes, appreciate the idea of a four-year college experience. Those students could commence upon master’s studies or consider an internship or co-op experience to broaden their academic experience.

Universities should consider options that educate the public in ways that meet current demands. Students should be afforded accelerated paths to degrees and cut out the fluff. I want engineers to read Hemingway, but sometimes that’s just not realistic. Some classes, which are required by national accrediting bodies, only add to educational cost, delay education and do not contribute significantly to acquiring a specific skill set. Curriculums need to remain rigorous and ensure quality. We should provide a means by which you can attain a meaningful education in less time in order to become a contributing member of society and the workforce.

With advances in today’s technology, the availability of transportation and companies willing to take on interns and co-op students, we need to change the education model to make college more affordable. Colleges and universities alone cannot do that – they need the support of national accrediting bodies. If institutions adjusted curriculums to eliminate free elective requirements that would create accreditation scrutiny. Graduating with a degree that is not accredited is of no value in a competitive job market or nor will it allow entry into a prestigious graduate school. In that sense, institutions are forced to charge students for non-applicable classes and pay for additional faculty members and facilities, which only increase costs and time for degree completion.

In Trine’s School of Professional Studies (SPS), for example, the model of 12 degree programs changed. The programs were strengthened while reducing the number of required credit hours per degree, saving an average of over $1,500 per student. This fall SPS will further the savings by allowing each new student to take his or her first class, a university experience course required in all degree programs, for free tuition and books. This change represents another $1,000 savings.

Another option is for students to take a combination of classes – seated and online – to help defray cost and to finish college more quickly. Classes could be available year-round. Online classes can be less expensive and timely, as transportation to and from a campus is not a requirement. Students can work at their own pace, from the comfort of their own home or preferred location.

Students also should be given educational credit for experiential learning. Many Trine students – and students at other private institutions across the country – complete internships and co-ops at some point in their college career. Many of these students have told me their summer internship experience was more valuable than one full year of college. Others have explained that their internship experience helped them to better understand the theories they were learning in the classroom. As a result of their experiences, their classroom performance improved.

Finally, students should also be given credit for lifelong learning and courses they have completed. Why should credits expire? Why should your time not matter? Students should be able to more easily transfer between colleges and universities, from online to seated or from community college to flagship four-year colleges and universities. We don’t want willing degree seekers to lose ground if life throws a curve ball.

In our region, some jobs cannot be filled because we do not have qualified workers. Amazingly, only a quarter of our population has a college degree, but many more seem to have college debt. Let’s make college completion a reality for all students, whether they’re a recent high school graduate, a single mom with two kids or an unemployed dad who’s lost his job after 20 years of hard work. We need to support all students, give them educational options that are flexible and affordable, without compromising the integrity of a college degree.

About the Author:

Dr. Earl Brooks II is currently the president for Trine University. Trine University, an internationally recognized, private, co-educational, residential institution, offers associate, baccalaureate, and master degrees in programs to students in engineering, mathematics, science, informatics, business, teacher education, communication, criminal justice, golf management, social sciences, and various other fields of study. Trine is a member of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association and offers 21 varsity sports. Its golf program includes the university-owned 18-hole championship Zollner Golf Course. Founded in 1884 and accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools , Trine operates a 450-acre main campus in Angola, Ind., and education resource centers throughout the state.

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College Students and Credit Cards (Infographic)

College Students and Credit Cards (Infographic)

We all know that college students are a strategic target for credit card companies. More than 70% of undergraduate students carry a credit card (some have two) and 90% of those with cards are carrying a balance from one month to the next. So, as a successful business model, I can see why they are sought out on campuses nationwide. I have written a number of articles related to credit cards and the college experience but I think the following infographic is very revealing about how college students use their credit cards. Enjoy!

Infographic provided by CreditSesame.com

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5 Tips to Making the Most of Your College Careers Service

5 Tips to Making the Most of Your College Careers Service

Whether it’s in the first year or last month of your college career, there comes a time when you’re going to have to start thinking about your working life after university. Yes, that’s right, unfortunately there is such a thing, and you’re time to begin this not-so-fun chapter of your life will come around quicker than you think. But you will, however, find your college will have something called a ‘Careers Service’ to make sure your transition into the world of work is as smooth and successful as possible. So, in this post, I point out a few of the ways you can utilize and make the most of your university careers service.

Ignore those Emails and Leaflets at Your Peril

If you’ve been deleting and ignoring emails from your careers service then stop and start reading them. Every careers service will differ from university to university, but you’ll find most will keep their students updated with information about jobs fairs and presentations. You also want to pay attention to any leaflets which are handed out or dotted around your college buildings. Sure, a lot of them won’t be relevant to you: if you’re an arts student, you’re not going to be interested in employer presentations seeking electrical engineering graduates for example. But keep an eye out and make a note of any up and coming events or application deadlines that your careers service tells you about.

Go About Job Fairs the Right Way

Most universities will have a number of jobs/careers fairs throughout the year. Some of these will be specifically targeted towards certain careers or students on specific degree courses but often they will be fairly general and open to everyone – from freshmen to finalists. Jobs fairs provide a fantastic opportunity to speak to representatives from different firms and to find out more about your potential recruiters. But it’s easy to wonder around them fairly aimlessly and achieve very little by turning up.

You can avoid making this mistake by planning your trip in advance. This doesn’t need to be anything too thorough, but look at the list of which companies will be there, think about which firms’ stalls you want to visit and have a few questions ready to ask. It’s also worth making sure you take a notepad and look reasonably smart; jobs fairs aren’t interviews, but there’s nothing to say you might not come across the person you speak to later down the line if you get an interview with that firm. If they remember you were the one that looked like you’d just rolled out of bed when you last spoke to them, that certainly won’t help you land the job.

Get Your Resume Checked Over

OK so you might be studying English and you might think writing a resume is an easy task compared to the last essay you had to grind out. But there’s bound to be someone at your university – irrespective of whether or not you have a large careers service – that’s seen many resumes from college students and can pick out flaws and mistakes that were invisible to you. It’s surprisingly hard to write a decent resume for the first time (and for the second and third time I might add). And getting your résumé checked over by the careers service won’t cost you anything, and it could be the difference between getting an interview and being told to shove it.

Attend Practice Interviews and Assessment Centers

Although less common, careers services will often arrange practice interviews and assessment center-style activities. For many college students, the only form of interview experience they’ve had will have been for a part-time job in a coffee shop or the like when they were 17. The application process for top graduate recruiters is a completely different ball game, however. You might be faced with multiple interviews, psychometric tests, and team-working and presentation exercises. If you have the opportunity to practice these and gain an advantage over your fellow job applicants, then take it.

Check for Jobs Advertised through Your Careers Service

When you’re at college and searching for a job it’s easy to fall into the trap of only Google searching the term ‘graduate jobs’, looking at the web pages of firms you’ve already heard of, or looking at a handful of graduate recruitment directories. But don’t forget to keep your search closer to home too; your university careers service will be contacted by more local, smaller firms who are looking to recruit from your university. If you don’t check out what’s advertised at your careers service then you might miss out on these opportunities.

About the Author:

Today’s guest article is provided by Julian who writes about personal finance, careers, and frugal living. He writes and manages the blog at frugaal.com which is a user-driven website that aims to help people find the best financial products.

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Coupon Apps That Every College Student Should Use

Coupon Apps That Every College Student Should Use

There’s no denying the immense expense of college these days. With students and recent grads drowning in debt, it’s clear a higher education comes with a hefty price tag. However, there are things you can do throughout your time as a student—like utilizing often overlooked coupons—to help soften the financial blow and cut down on expenses.

Thankfully, there are a few smartphone apps that help facilitate this process, making it easier than ever to save a buck or two. Consider trying one, or all, of the applications listed below to start saving on everything from food to clothes and more TODAY!

The Coupons App

First up is The Coupons App. With so many great features, it’s hard to know where to even start describing this handy application. Offering users real-time updates for great deals on everything from gas to goods, it’s a wonder everyone with a smartphone isn’t already using this—plus it’s FREE. Available for both Android and Apple, this application offers people the opportunity to share deals they find with others through text messages, emails and even social media—so if you find a good deal on textbooks or pizza, you can alert the masses!

Offering a widget option, users can see updates the instant they become available. Plus, it even has the ability to sync with your current location, making it even easier to get to the best deals in town. So, save yourself some trouble and money and install the Coupons App now!

Coupon Clipper

Similar to the Coupons App, Coupon Clipper offers users deals and discounts on a myriad of things ranging from health and beauty products to automotive services and more. Priding itself on supporting and promoting LOCAL, small businesses, Coupon Clipper covers more than half of the United States, with hopes of expanding.

Available for free to people on both the Apple and Android networks, this app is perfect for college students. You never know what deals you’ll find next.

Fast Food Deals and Coupons

Offering a bit more of a limited selection than the previous two apps, Fast Food Deals and Coupons still makes a great addition to any student’s smartphone applications menu.

While not the best for your diet, it’s almost a fact of life that college students will OCCASIONALLY partake in fast food fare—so might as well make it affordable, right? No sense in putting the hurt on both your wallet and waistline—cut back where you can. Allowing users the opportunity to browse by category or company, the app is user-friendly and easy to navigate. They even post their top, recommended deals for the day and alert you of discounts and offers that will soon expire. So, when your hectic class schedule forces you to eat on the run, check this app first to save some change.

The fact that these apps aren’t already being used by everyone from MBA candidates to first-year freshmen baffles me. They are an easy way to budget your money and save at a time your income is less than stellar. Plus, it helps prepare you for the future, as it starts a good habit early on. So, even after you graduate and have a real salary, the thrifty ways of your past can help you manage your money. Coupon clipping, like so many other things, has evolved over time with technology. It’s not just for soccer moms anymore.

Today’s guest article comes from Amanda Watson. She is a freelancer blogger who writes about online mba programs and other topics pertaining to online higher education. You can reach Amanda at watsonamanda.48@gmail.com.

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